Category Archives: Books

Ah, Sweet Geekery

Friends, I’ve been reading.  Before, this blog would have been filled with reviews of novels, but quite frankly, I don’t have time for that.  It took me a month to read The Shining, and that can only partly be blamed on needing to read during the daylight hours.  I get caught up in books so much I don’t even see chapter breaks most of the time, and before I know it I’m behind on…whatever it is I’m supposed to be doing.

Comic books have proven to be the perfect form of entertainment.  Highly entertaining, action packed, engaging stories and each issue is the perfect length for a short break between…schoolwork, my job, the house, whatever.  I used to advocate the trades because I read through individual issues too fast and became too impatient for the next issue to be released.  Especially, when I often couldn’t find the next issue in my local shops.

Oh, how little did I know!  My over scheduled day loves the individual issues, and I discovered this weekend that Mammoth Comics will order the ones I need, if they can. I get the feeling this is something pretty common and I should have known. (Kind of like that football thing…nevermind. Just forget I mentioned football.) Oh, happy day!  Didn’t think I could get any geekier?  Neither did I.  The funny part is, I’m ridiculously excited by this.  My impatience hasn’t lessened, but I don’t feel the panicky need to buy all the issues at once, just in case I can’t find them later…much.

I’ve written before about how much I enjoy Brian K Vaugh’s Saga.  (Volume 6 is due out soon!)  I also went to the experts at Wizard World’s Comic Con in Tulsa in October to ask for some recommendations.  Thanks to those excellent recommendations, a little venturing out on my own (mostly because I liked the pretty pictures), and a couple of gifts from a friend, and my knowledge is growing.  I still feel like a novice, but I no longer feel like I’m lost in the woods.

‘Til next time,

Jessica

P.S. I’ll be posting some reviews soon.  I promise!

P.P.S. Those individual issues, I’m keeping them in a magazine box-thing that is now full. Any storage suggestions?

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I Asked the Experts

About a year ago, I wrote a post about my Comic Book Confusion.  Since I was at a loss about which comic books to read and where to start, I decide to ask an expert.  I got my opportunity at Wizard World’s Comic Con in Tulsa last month.  With so many artists and writers in attendance, and such a great program to choose from, I thought, surely I can get a couple of good recommendations from someone in the industry who should know.  Right?

I have a list.  Of course, I haven’t been able to read all the way through the list yet, but I’ve gotten enough of a start to be confident I’m going to thoroughly enjoy the rest of it.

Wait?  What was that?  You want to know what’s on my list? Okay, I’ll share.

The Comic Book To-Read List

  1. Saga by Brian K. Vaughn – Yes, this was already on this list, and along with Sandman by Neil Gaiman provided the basis for the rest of the list…also I’ve been reading all of the other volumes I can get my hand on, and eagerly awaiting the next!
  2. Dream Thief by Jai Nitz – I’ve read Volume 1 and couldn’t put it down.  (I promise a full review is coming soon!)  Volume 2 is sitting on my kitchen table.  It arrived today.
  3. Rat Queens by Kurtis J. Weibe – I would like to say I can only read one book at a time, but I’ve already proven that I can.  I just haven’t picked this one up yet.
  4. Paper Girls by Brian K. Vaughn – He already hit one out of the park with Saga do we really doubt?

My first Comic Con was a resounding success.  We all did a bit of amateur cosplay, fondled light sabers we could not afford, bought some amazing pieces of art, and met some fascinating people.

My one gigantic failing…not enough pictures!  Somehow I got dazzled by “geekvana” and forgot to take pictures.  Oh well, there’s always the next con.

What do you think of the list?  Would you add anything?

‘Til next time,

Jessica


I read a list of banned books today and thought of this.

“Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming. This is a fault. Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. For these there is hope. They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only Beauty. There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.”
― Oscar WildeThe Picture of Dorian Gray

I stumbled across a list of “banned books” on the internet…somewhere, and as I was looking it over, I realized a lot of my favorites, books that changed my life, are on this list.  They changed my life for the better, books didn’t corrupt me or lead me astray, they opened my eyes, made me more compassionate, more empathetic, more tolerant of people in the world.  I’ve never read a book that made me a worse person, but I’ve certainly read ones that made me a better one.

Personally, I go to lists of banned books to find something to read when I’m not sure, so a lot of these I’ve read.  A few, I’ve reviewed here for you.  Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman is on the ALA’s frequently challenged or banned books list for 2013-2014, and so is Looking for Alaska by John Green, both of which are wonderful books that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed.  There were others I’ve read on this list, but these two jumped out at me for being extraordinarily good books.  You can go back and look at the lists from this and previous years along with the reasons the books were challenged and whether or not the school retained them.   They also have a Banned Books Week you can support as well.

Banning books…that just…it just makes me mad.  I’m putting a lid on the Rabbit Hole now, stepping down off my soapbox, and opening the floor for discussion.

Do you think the people who challenge these books have actually read them?  Tell me about some of your favorite books.   Did you parents ever stop you from reading something?  What was it?

‘Til next time,

Jessica

 


I Should Have Known A “Bad Monkey” Would Be Funny

BadMonkeyHave you ever been innocently wandering down the aisle at a bookstore and have a cover reach out and smack you?  I mean figuratively not literally. (Although if this has happened to you literally, I think that’s a story I need to know!)  It happened to me.  Big, bold, neon orange and yellow with a screaming monkey in a pirate hat on the cover.  You know you’d pick it up to read if it were you.  If nothing else, I needed to take a closer look, because this is something my nephew would want to hear about.

Carl Hiaasen’s Bad Monkey was not the monkey I expected, but it was the monkey I needed…wait, is that Batman?  Anyway, the whole thing starts off with an arm that gets put in a cooler, and like a monkey it bounces all over the place from there.  You would think that with as many plot twists, sub plots and deranged animals (and thugs named Egg) things would get a bit out of control, but they don’t (well, except in a good way).  Hiaasen keeps a firm hand on the reins of this plot, and seeing all those lines that seem tangled come to a smooth controlled knot at the end, is immensely satisfying.  To say Bad Monkey is fast-paced would be an understatement, but it will take you on a wild, grin-filled, ride.

Although, I picked up the book with my nephew in mind, Bad Monkey is not for the 13-year-old.  However, the brief overview of the plot I gave him garnered me a smile.  A real one…like with teeth. (He no longer laughs out loud at the things adults say.  It is beneath him.  This is no reflection on my skill as a comedian…no, really!) The book’s comedic value comes as much from the crazy situations the main character Andrew Yancy finds creates for himself as the cast of characters surrounding him.  Escaped convicts from Oklahoma, a detective bumped down to roach patrol, the arm in the freezer, and a hurricane…oh, and you can’t forget that deranged monkey.

You know how I am about characters, and Yancy provides a flawed hero.  He actually does the stuff that most of us only fantasize about.  His girlfriend’s a bit kooky too (actually, so is the ex…you know the escaped con from Oklahoma?)  Yancy has the depth I like in a character without that filter that keeps most of us out of jail.  It’s kind of like letting your id run around mostly unchecked for a while.  He’s a good guy though, who wants to do the right thing, but rules get in the way.

This is the first book of Hiaasen’s I’ve read, but I will be looking for more.  Especially, if his others are as much of a fun-filled adventure as this one.  Sometimes you need out of the wizards preventing the end of the world, drug and alcohol addicted characters, or peculiar children and run with something a bit more light-hearted.  Hiaasen will be my go-to guy next time I need a lift out of the doldrums.

My mom and I were also talking about the book, and she mentioned that Carl Hiaasen was interviewed on NPR.  I haven’t looked to see if the interview can be found online, but it sounds like it would be worth the time to check it out.

First Lines:

On the hottest day of July, trolling in dead-calm waters near Key West, a tourist named James Mayberry reeled up a human arm.  His wife flew to the bow of the boat and tossed her breakfast burritos.

Today I cannot resist stealing The Nerdist Podcast’s sign-off.

Enjoy your burrito,

Jessica

 


What Did Harper Lee Do After Mockingbird?

As school starts up again, I started thinking about books (What?  I can’t help it.  I love books) and what students are going to be assigned to read this year.  Some of them can be a struggle to finish (believe me, I remember) but not all of them are dry dusty old tomes that you’ll never pick up again.  To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee grabbed me the first time I read it in school, and, for a girl who was constantly reading anyway, finding a book that grabbed my attention and got included on the required reading list was a bit of a revelation.  As with much of the required school reading, we watched the movie starring Gregory Peck after we finished reading the book.   This is a story I’ve never forgotten, and will read again every time I come across my battered paperback copy.  It always made me a little sad that I never got to read anything else by Harper Lee, so this article on 4 Awesome Things Harper Lee Did After Mockingbird really caught my interest.  Have you read it?  What did you think?

‘Til next time,

Jessica

 


Looking for Alaska

looking-for-alaskaThe Fault in Our Stars may have been the first book I’ve read by the insanely popular young adult author, John Green, but it was so good, it ensured it wouldn’t be the last.  Looking for Alaska made the journey to Boston with me, and I, for some reason, didn’t think that reading it on the plane would be a big deal.  It wasn’t, as long as you don’t have a problem with crying openly on a packed aircraft.  Once again Green has impressed me with his ability to connect with people.

You may be asking yourself why I keep reading John Green books if they all have made me cry, and it is a good question.  They’re just so stinking good I can’t help myself.  Although the New Yorker refers to him as “The Teen Whisperer”  his books appeal to a wider audience, because he doesn’t treat his Young Adult audience as people who don’t understand what’s going on in the world.  He treats them like intelligent, caring, individuals who are trying to figure out this life just like everyone else is.  (I’m a firm believer that anyone who tells you they’ve got it all figured out is either deluding themselves or lying).  He cares about his fans, and he’s forged a connection that is apparent in not just his novels but the rest of his public presence. (when you include social media, vlogbrothers, mental floss, crash course, press interviews, etc….it is a considerable presence)  He doesn’t assume that youth automatically denotes a lack of maturity or that age determines who is a “grown-up”.  This imbues his books with something special that appeals to a lot of people.

Looking for Alaska deals with issues such as struggling to find your place somewhere new, friendship, ambition, and grief.  I don’t know about you, but I struggle with these things too…still…probably always.  He approaches these universal problems with humor, truth and sensitivity that is appealing in a way that allows me to take something positive from the novel and apply it in my life.

An incredibly good friend told me recently that I’m not good at introspection…okay, an incredibly loud “HA” escaped her when I mentioned introspection. (She’s probably right since I’ve just decided not to look too closely at that “ha” for the moment.  Actually, she’s usually right, but don’t tell her I said that.)  Books like Green’s help me look a little closer without fear (mostly) and realize I could use more bravery to live in the moment and chase my dreams,recognize the difference between shoving grief in a big dark box and never looking at it again isn’t the same as dealing with lossand good friends can help you get through anything life hurls your way if you let them.  This knowledge is worth the tears.

I make this sound like Green’s books are depressing, and they’re not.  His characters have great senses of humor, and I find myself laughing far more often than crying.  Looking For Alaska describes a few great, intricate pranks I wish I’d thought of when I had the right audience for that kind of thing.  While the subject matter can get pretty deep, we are talking about a young adult novel, and Green definitely finds that spark to connect his younger audience to his characters and remind his older audience of what it felt like to be that age again.  Humor and fun are a huge part of that.

Honestly, while I will always recommend that parents read what they’re kids are reading for a lot of reasons (none of which include censoring what they read, by the way).  Even if your kids aren’t reading Green’s stuff, I would recommend you do.  His novels really remind me of what it felt like to be a teenager, the good stuff and the bad stuff.  With a teenaged niece and nephew, I realize that it is easy to want to protect them from…everything.  It is hard to remember how important the decisions I made for myself, good and bad, were in shaping the adult I became…am becoming…will become? (No one has ever accused me of being a grown-up)  Being thrown back into that mentality through these novels switched on a lightbulb for me, and stopped me from judging their behavior and decisions (most of the time) and I just started talking to them, free from advice (unless they ask or I can’t help myself), free from disappointment or scorn, and focusing more on just being a really good listener (even if I worry that I may bite through my tongue trying to keep from talking sometimes).  Also, skill with open-ended questions helps…occasionally.  Teenagers don’t always make it easy to talk to them, and remembering what I went through at that age helps me find solid neutral ground where we can meet from time to time.  Also, if they’re not reading the books, most of them saw the movie or have lots of friends who did…a common jumping off place isn’t a bad way to start talking.

The announcement was made that Looking for Alaska would also be adapted for the big screen.  I’m really looking forward to it.  John’s novel Paper Towns will also be adapted for film.  The same team that brought TFiOS to life for fans will be bringing Paper Towns to us on the screen as well, and after seeing what they accomplished with The Fault in Our Stars  I have complete faith them.  Of course, if you haven’t seen The Fault in Our Stars yet, I highly recommend it.

First Lines:

one hundred thirty-six days before

The week before I left my family and Florida and the rest of my minor life to go to boarding school in Alabama, my mother insisted on throwing me a going-away party.  To say that I had low expectations would be to underestimate the matter dramatically.

‘Til next time,

Jessica


Concealed in Death

concealed in deathRecently, I read another J.D. Robb novel, Concealed in Death, and unlike the last one, this one rejuvenated my enthusiasm for the series until I really started thinking about it.  Yes, I had no idea who’d “done” it.  My suspicions were confirmed, but I didn’t know how they’d pulled the whole thing off until it was revealed.   J.D. Robb, a pseudonym for Nora Roberts, always provides easy entertainment without the necessity of too much brain power, and this provided the break I desperately needed between the first and second Patrick Melrose Novels by Edward St. Aubyn.  (St. Aubyn created fascinating characters who are spectacularly broken, and leave a reader feeling drained. Seriously, when a book about a serial killer is considered a break…).

Concealed in  Death provided a great escape without taking too much time or taxing my heart and mind.  Sometimes you need that, but I still remember when her villains were chilling and it was a race to get to the next page to make sure the main character survived (with the shows I watch and books I read, no one is safe!).  The reader does get more insight into Mavis Freestone’s backstory which is always engaging, but I was longing for a bit more…traumatization whether that arrived in the form of emotional turmoil or physical danger, I didn’t really care.

Maybe I’ve become desensitized to the drama and excitement.  There’s plenty of that to go around in the other entertainments I pursue, but still…surely escapism isn’t the only thing these books have left in them, is it?  Maybe, I just want to be pushed.  Think harder, feel more, experience something I haven’t before.  Maybe pure escapism just isn’t for me anymore?  Perhaps, what I really need is a break from both Nora Roberts and J.D. Robb.  These go-to standards for simple entertainment haven’t lived up to my expectations recently.  Night Circus, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, The Fault in Our Stars… these all far exceeded my expectations, and I’ve got a stack of books by authors I don’t really know waiting to be read.

Now, this could all just be a symptom of wanting to change directions in other areas of my life as well…too much self-introspection for me this afternoon!

First Lines:

Neglect could kill a building brick by brick.  It was, to his mind, more insidious than hurricane or earthquake because as it murdered slowly, quietly, not in rage or passion, but with utter contempt.

 

‘Til next time,

Jessica


Comic Book Confusion

SagaI’m dipping my foot into the world of comic books, slowly but surely.  Apparently, I started off at what people who know comic books tell me is the top, Sandman.  I’ve been warned that I may be let down by others, but after finishing Neil Gaiman’s acclaimed Sandman several people recommended Saga.   Thank you, thank you, thank you, to all of you who recommended this.  I’m loving it.

Published by Image Comics, written by Brian Vaughn and illustrated by Fiona Staples, this series has won three Eisner awards and a Hugo for Best Graphic Story.  You get this great star-crossed lovers plot line.  Their worlds are at war, and a relationship between them threatens all the propaganda and indoctrination of the masses both sides have built up to sustain said war.  Lying cats, bounty hunters, ghosts, and the drama of keeping a newborn alive while on the run keep things fast paced and interesting.

So interesting my frustration nearly got the better of me when I couldn’t find more after volume 1.  See I have no idea how this comic book publishing thing works, and while there’s a used book store that usually carries a good selection, my first foray into a comic book store was…well, I understand the stereotype a bit more now.  Also, it smelled weird.  There are a couple of other stores in town I want to check out, and someone said something about having a standing monthly order to get new issues.

I’ve also picked up a few issues of other things here and there, but I’ll go back and be unable to find anything else in the series…hence frustration.  What do you think?  Truthfully, I’d rather give my money to a local business, but is it worth not finding the new stuff?  I’m almost to the Barnes & Noble, trade paperback stage…there’s just so much, and I really don’t know where to start.

I need some assistance here, people.  I know I like X-men, all the members of the Avengers, and Deadpool seems hilarious too, but I don’t know where to begin.  I picked up a few issues of The Winter Soldier and I really liked that too, but haven’t been able to find anything else.  Apparently, I’m keeping things on the Marvel side for right now.  (Also, because I think DC is stupid for not giving us a Wonder Woman movie, but that is an entirely separate issue.)  So many options, so many crossovers, so much confusion!   Recommendations?  Help!

‘Til next time,

Jessica

P.S. I did find Saga volumes 2 and 3, so I think I’m caught up?


Miss Peregrin’s Home for Peculiar Children

Miss PeregrineI know. I’m a bad blogger. Lately I’ve kind of become a bit of a hermit, but all that’s changing. I’ve missed you guys!

My hermit status has been good for quite a bit of reading, so this will be the first of several new book reviews.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs has been calling to me since it was first released, but I resisted mightily. Then I saw a second book had been released, and I figured I needed to see what was up with this monochromatic covered book.  I actually did not notice the girl on the cover is floating until I saw her photograph again inside the novel.

Riggs has built a wonderful world, and I enjoyed every minute I got to spend there with these peculiar children. The characters have depth, and reveal themselves slowly. The lush backdrop of Wales is vibrant, and the intriguing storyline captured and held my attention.

I began my adventures with Jacob late in the evening last week. I’d been to a baseball game with friends, and I needed to unwind a bit. Why I thought Jacob and these peculiar children would be something I could put down easily, I don’t know. I actually did the stereotypical, falling asleep with all the lights on, propped up in bed with the book next to me, and when I woke up, I immediately wanted to dive back in.

Jacob’s grandfather tells him stories of peculiar children he grew up with in a home during World War II.  These outlandish stories capture Jacob’s attention, and although he questions the validity of a boy with bees living inside of him, a girl who levitates, or an invisible boy, his grandfather says he’s telling the truth. Jacob believes him.

However, as happens all too often, Jacob grows up. His parents convince him these are just stories, and it isn’t real. After his grandfather’s death, Jacob searches to connect with the person who knew him best, with his heritage.  He need to find out what inspired these fantastical stories his grandfather insisted were true, so Jacob decides to travel to Wales where this home is located.

Most of us are looking at where we came from, the people and traditions that influenced the way we are raised, and that turns Jacob into someone we can see ourselves in. This fantastic search for these odd children becomes something we can believe in as well, because we’ve all gone looking for something in our family’s history.

In a world in which we’re meant to be more connected through this amazing technology at our fingertips, we feel more adrift. Genealogy studies have skyrocketed, and I think that many of us are looking for an anchor, for roots to hold us steady as the world spins faster and faster around us.

Ransom Riggs’s character is doing the same thing. Jacob’s world is spinning out of control. Decisions about his future are being made for him, and he just needs something to hold on to. Something solid and real and unchanging.

Can he find what he’s looking for in Wales? Does Jacob find the stability he needs in the home his grandfather spoke of so often? Is what he finds better or worse? Do you have to have a clear picture of the past in order to embrace your future? Maybe Hollow City will provide more answers.

One of my favorite things about this book is the photographs. Riggs found these wonderfully peculiar photos that are scattered throughout the novel, and they really enhance the story in a way that illustrations and descriptions can’t do. They add a realism to the story that makes you wonder and want to believe in these odd kids and their world.  It adds another layer to an already nuanced and engaging novel.

This quirky, strange and wonderful book turned out to be so much more than the easy, slightly spooky, read I expected. I immediately went out to purchase the next installment, and as much as I’d like to dive in right away, I’m letting Jacob and his world percolate a bit.  It isn’t like I’m going far, the final installment of the Patrick Melrose Novels by Edward St. Aubyn is sitting on my coffee table now, just waiting for me to finish it.  And while it is separated from Jacob’s Wales by a few years, it’s still in Great Britain, so, geographically anyway, I haven’t moved much.  (Although, as characters go, Patrick Melrose and Jacob are nearly polar opposites in many ways.)

 

First Lines:

 I had just come to accept that my life would be ordinary when extraordinary things began to happen.  The first of these came as a terrible shock and, like anything that changes you forever, split my life into halves: Before and After.  Like many of the extraordinary things to come, it involved my grandfather, Abraham Portman.

 

‘Til next time,
Jessica

 


Finding Inspiration Through the Tears

So, I am a little in love with the book, The Fault in Our Stars. Are you shocked? Probably not. The movie adaptation was released last week, and I finally got to see it. Before going to see the movie I discussed it with…just about everybody, and, so far, the general consensus is that TFiOS broke their hearts.

As my friend and I left the theater, she mentioned how depressing she found the film, but I disagree.  Maybe the second consumption of the story lends itself to a little more introspection and a little less reaction.  Don’t get me wrong, I cried buckets.  I’m grateful she thought to grab tissues (although I’m not sure an entire box would have been enough to mop up all the emotion).  However, even as I dried my tears and tried to pull myself together enough to at least remember where I parked the car (not an easy feat on a day in which I haven’t been emotionally compromised by a John Green tale), I realized that I don’t find this story depressing.

Hazel, Augustus and Isaac broke my heart again, and once again, they’ve mended it a little.  The story of the “cancer kids” who meet in “the literal heart of Jesus” inspires me. I had to work my way through the emotion to find the inspiration, and, as I said, the second consumption helped to find the positivity inherent in every novel of Green’s I’ve read.

There’s hope and life in this story. I’m inspired to take advantage of every day, to cherish the people in my life, to take chances despite (or even because of) the risk, and to never dismiss love.  My stubbornly independent self is even inspired to admit (occasionally) that it is okay if you can’t carry everything by your self all of the time, and leaning on the people who love you every once in the while isn’t a bad thing.  Sometimes you need a boost to achieve your dreams.

Don’t be intimidated by the tears! Go see this movie.